Expressions of Femininity in Art


Still from WAP video


For eons, the arts have translated the human experience into images, words, music, movement, and sculpted figures. Walking through a museum, you can see ancient depictions of humanity, images showcasing humans in power, in love, with their families, and the beauty of the human body- the fertility, the virility, the essence of our lives.


I've been thinking about the human body in artistic expression (chiefly the female body) over the past few days after seeing the furor that erupted over Cardi B and Meghan Thee Stallion's new song, "WAP." Many have decried it as profane, as just another signifier of our decaying morals as a society, and as a danger to the image of femininity. As a rule, I'm against the censure of other people's creative expression unless it's something that is going to be directly harmful or dangerous to an individual or group. After all, people express themselves in different ways and no one piece of art, song, book, movie, play, etc. resonates with every human being on the planet. This is why we have the ability to change the channel, pick a different movie, walk out of the theater, or, in this case, move on to another song. This song, "WAP," isn't directly harmful or dangerous to anyone- people may not agree with the message but it isn't causing the destruction of our society. The celebration of the female form is nothing new- some people just don't like this particular expression of it.


For centuries, women have been captured in art, mostly by men. They were the doe-eyed, rotund, half-nude figures lying on a cushion or the big bellied symbols of fertility carved out of stone. More recently, women have started taking control of the female image in art as well as the female narrative in literature and film. No longer are women simply the subject of the work, women are the creators of it. It's my belief that this change deeply unsettles some people, which leads them to lash out about "sensibilities," "improprieties," and "moral decay." Republican Congressional candidate, DeAnna Lorraine, wrote that "Cardi B& Megan Thee Stallion just set the entire female gender back by 100 years with their disgusting & vile "WAP" song."


As always, much of this hysterical outcry is to support an agenda- whenever an artist (musical or otherwise) does something controversial, people come out in droves to hand-wring and lament how far we've fallen. (A lot of times, the artists targeted are Black/Brown or female, but that's another article for another day.) These same critics might laugh about "virtue-signaling" but isn't this a prime example of it? If some of these "concerned citizens" were really concerned about society- I mean like they really cared to think about other people aside from sniping about musicians and dog-piling in their criticism of low-income populations or trying to make sure that public programs are gutted for their own personal interests, they might actually be able to make a positive difference in our society. They could...ahem...They COULD spend less time attacking the arts and more time supporting policies that truly help the most vulnerable members of our society, including the children everyone says they're so worried about but who will, paradoxically, bend over backward to support policies that negatively impact the poorer ones among them. But sure, go off.


Some people have lambasted certain rappers for the way they speak about women in their songs over the years, but I'm sure there are many people who simply nodded their head along to a good beat and are now criticizing female rappers as what's wrong with our society. Women's sexuality has been commodified for centuries but now that women are no longer simply the product, but the creators and distributors, some people are concerned. "WAP" might not be a song you want your children to listen to, but neither would you want them to listen to many other songs- not all of which fall into the rap category (rap gets a bad...well...rap, but there are plenty of "objectionable" lyrics in other genres, even country.) If "WAP" is causing the fall of our society, according to some hysterics, they should know that the song is in good company.


We all have the power to control what we watch and listen to and what our children watch and listen to. The critics fear that Cardi B and Meghan Thee Stallion might become role models to kids when in reality, it is up to parents to help their children find role models they approve of. It is up to parents to take some control in their family life. You are the person who committed to raising your child- not some distant musician who is not, in fact, tailoring their music to fit your family's belief system. Also, (because I think some people need to hear this): your child's school did not commit to raising them either.


Can we always keep our kids from encountering music, art, books, or ideas that we don't approve of? No. But we can do our best. The same way we don't let Junior watch a rated R movie, we also should not let Junior listen to adult music. In all honesty, we should probably be less concerned with "WAP" and more concerned about the current political climate in our country. If there's anything we should be wringing our hands over, it should be how our politicians communicate and behave, not our artists.


In the end, the female body has been depicted in so many ways over the last several centuries- this is just its latest variation. Everyone can take a breath and if needed, play another song.



As I was writing this, I found this article that I think fits with what I'm writing about in this post:

https://blogs.getty.edu/iris/crossing-the-line-the-disgusting-female-body-as-artistic-medium-of-resistance/